Dr. Jordan Peterson and the Totalitarianism of Pronouns

By Aaron Neil

Free speech is under legislative threat in Canada, in the form of Bill C-16 and social justice-oriented gender theories.

From ousting “offensive” faculty members to fiercely advocating for the renaming of buildings, political correctness on campus shows no sign of slowing down. Indeed, campus outrage, motivated by political correctness has become routine. However, while these cases are undoubtedly disruptive to students’ learning, and do not bode well for the future of higher education, many of these campus crusades can be rightfully dismissed by the public.

Nonetheless, a recent case on the Canadian campus of the University of Toronto should not be dismissed or treated with levity. The Toronto campus and the national media erupted when Dr. Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist and a tenured professor at the University of Toronto, published a viral YouTube video outlining his dissent against a piece of Canadian legislation, Bill C-16. Bill C-16 is an attempt to amend the Canadian Human rights code to classify any discriminatory act against an individual’s “gender identity” and “gender expression” as a hate crime or as hate propaganda.

The bill has already passed through Parliament and is being reviewed by the Senate before it becomes law.

In his opposition to the bill, Dr. Peterson argued that Bill C-16 could make refusing to refer to people as their preferred pronoun a hate crime. Additionally, refusing to call a transgender individual by their particular pronoun of choice (pronouns that include ze, zer, zim and more) could result in punitive legal measures or possibly jail time.

Currently, the New York City Human Rights Law has a similar law in place, where employers can be fined up to $250,000 if they refuse to refer to an employee by their preferred gender pronoun.  

Dr. Peterson voiced his concern during a recent debate on Bill C-16 hosted by the University of Toronto Faculty of Arts & Science. In response to Dr. Peterson, one of his opponents, Dr. Brenda Cossman, a law professor and the Director for Sexual Diversity Studies at U of T, attempted to refute his claim by stating:

“You don’t…go to jail…The mechanisms of civil enforcement come into effect…The two most common forms of enforcing judgments are: (The) seizure and sale of assets, and if your assets do not sufficiently cover the fine, then your wages will be garnished…So yes, it’s true your assets might be seized, your income might be garnished, but you don’t get to go to jail.”

Don’t worry, you won’t go to jail. The state will just seize your assets or garnish your income.

Furthermore, Dr. Peterson’s second debate opponent, Dr. Mary Bryson of the University of British Columbia who is a faculty member of the school’s Social Justice Institute, classified Dr. Peterson’s position on the bill as “hate propaganda”. “Hate Propaganda” is the exact offense that Bill C-16 aims to make a punishable criminal offense. Based on Dr. Bryson’s accusation, Dr. Peterson could face charges if this bill materializes into law, for simply arguing against it.

Dr. Peterson’s two debate opponents proved his thesis: this bill poses a serious threat to free speech.

His contentions with the bill are not confined to its negative implications on free speech. In a mock debate at Queen’s University, he deconstructed the underlying assumptions about gender that would be legislated into law if the bill were to pass.

For example, the bill states that a person’s gender identity is determined by the subjective whims of that individual. In other words, you define your gender identity, regardless of your biological sex or how others see you. If you are a man, but think you are a woman, no one can say otherwise because you alone define your identity.

Dr. Peterson disagrees with this idea of gender identity. During the debate, he argued that “Your Identity is part of the public commons,” and must be mutually agreed upon with other members of society. To further illustrate his point, Dr. Peterson used the example of an individual’s reputation. Someone cannot simply declare “I am an honest person” when those around him are aware of his propensity to cheat or tell lies on a regular basis. Claiming that you are honest does not make you honest, and claiming to be a woman does not make you a woman.

He also argued that the intellectual proponents of the legislation are those who argue that gender is socially constructed. Meaning, society creates man and woman through a socialization process, and nature (genetics) plays no role. However, how can gender be subjectively defined and constructed by society at the same time?

Dr. Peterson put it perfectly when he stated “You can’t instantiate a philosophical viewpoint into the law…especially if it’s palpably false”.

Do you agree with Dr. Peterson? Do you think the ideas put forward by this Bill are wrong, unscientific, or logically untenable? If you do, your opinions could be subject to a hefty fine, and if you cannot pay it, your wages could be apprehended.

Perhaps you have yet to make up your mind on the issue of gender identity, and think it should be debated in the public square – good luck finding an academic willing to debate on the side of the biological view of sex, when his views could be classified as “hate propaganda”.

Bill C-16 ends the argument and silences dissenting views.

Free speech and productive scientific discourse is slowly ceding ground to gender studies activists who place a higher priority on ideology than factual evidence. Dr. Jordan Peterson is one of the only intellectuals brave enough to publicly dissent to Bill C-16 and its ideological sycophants. Although every confidence should be afforded to Peterson, now practically a rock star in the classical liberal and other similar communities, it is nonetheless unfortunate that the rational should find itself in the minority.

In the spirit of the inimitable William F. Buckley, Jr., hopefully, Peterson will continue to “…stand athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it”. For at this moment, that is what we so desperately need.